When is reality just too real?

May 11, 2011

I’m a voyeur. Fact is, there are a lot of us, and one dead giveaway is that we’re the ones who watch reality shows. If you’re a Real Housewife of… viewer, then you’re a voyeur.*

The thing about Bravo’s very successful Housewives franchise is that the uglier the episode is, the more viewers seem like it. Consequently, every episode seems to revolve around a catfight. A ratings bonanza.

Catfights make me uncomfortable: women behaving badly toward other women makes cringe-worthy television. These shows, once fairly interesting, have degenerated into silly women doing silly things.{I like to think some of it is spurred on by producers, who know it makes good TV. At least I hope it is.}

But (and this may be rationalization at its worst) I also like to think that when we see other women behaving so irrationally, being so mean and vindictive, we learn.

Maybe we change some of our own behavior. Maybe we learn the value of an apology.

Or maybe we don’t.

Maybe human behavior is intrinsically fascinating and there is no greater lesson to be learned from trash TV. It’s just that we love watching a train wreck.

But I continue to be astonished that women allow themselves to be seen in such a horrifying light. Especially those who pretend to represent “class.” {Yeah, that’s you, Countess Luann.}

I doubt many viewers were surprised that RHOOC Vicki Gunvalson’s marriage collapsed this year. The cameras made it clear that Vicki’s priorities did not include her husband, Don. She excluded him from most of her life, including big decisions. He looked emasculated; she looked like a self-centered bitch, and I doubt it was the editing. {All the “housewives” are fond of blaming the editing for their embarrassing behavior.}

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I’ve been following a painfully open and honest (relatively young) blogger for several years now. And while she runs hot and cold about how much of her real-life family problems she reveals to viewers (there is only the barest minimum of story thread about her child’s mild disability, her husband’s serious illness and her marital unhappiness), she often uses the blog to vent. She did that recently about the holidays and it’s clear that her marriage has serious issues.

Her successful and loving husband appears to have that male ailment wives all over the world are familiar with: “won’t go to counseling because I’m perfect and you’re the problem.” The blogger has the Bethenny Ever After** condition of wanting a magazine-perfect life complete with crazily detailed holiday meals, life in a gated community, a high-visibility career, a wealthy husband, perfect babies–she is a woman who does too much and it all has to be perfect. She is strung tighter than a Stradivarius.

But here’s the thing: the two of them aired their most recent spat on her blog — in all its childish glory– for all the world to read. He said, she said. He said, she said. And of course, many readers (me included) weighed in.

Finally, I had to avert my eyes. It was just too much information, even for this voyeur. The whole thing felt wrong, to me. What chance does a marriage have when its partners seem to only talk to each other on blog comments, each soliciting support and understanding from the anonymous public, each trying to be right?

Both the blogger and the housewives are letting themselves be seen in a terrible light: the blogger because she is compelled to vent her personal life publicly; the housewives because they want fame and fortune.

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I’m writing a memoir. I think I have a pretty good idea of how much I want to let readers in. I think know how far I want to go. I have no problem revealing some of my most embarrassing and childish behavior in the service of the story. {Unlike the “housewives,” who reveal it in the service of income.} That’s not a question. Ok, well maybe it’s a teensy question. But not the main one.

The question has been how to write about the behavior of others. Behavior that must be part of the story for it to make sense. Those who are no longer living or gone from my life? I’ll be respectful, but honest.

But decisions must be made about those who are still part of my world.

I’ve thought about this. I know who can take it and who can’t. I know what relationships would be damaged by certain information and I know I can’t leave out some things that are going to make some people I care about uncomfortable.

Relationship is a big part of what I’m writing. But there’s no way I’m going to regurgitate He Said/She Said stuff in all its excruciating detail, either in the memoir or in my blog. Won’t happen. Because it doesn’t serve the story.

None of us looks good all the time. Some of us don’t care how we look as long as we’re gaining fame and fortune. Fame and fortune? Neither has ever driven me.

Some of us feel like we have to vent our most private arguments and spats to the entire world to get validation. That’s not me, either.

I write because I can’t not write.

There’s a fine line between letting ourselves be seen in enough intimate detail that the reader or viewer can relate vicariously, and revealing our dirty laundry for entertainment. It’s a balancing act and it’s hard.

And yes, the first draft of the book is in progress. Slow, painful progress, but progress.

*I follow NY, OC and NJ, cringing, but viewing, nonetheless. ** Yes, another reality show, and my only excuse is that she started on RHONY.

3 comments on “When is reality just too real?
  1. Anonymous says:

    I, as usual, agree with everything you say here. LOve Bethenny, NJ, NY, and Atlanta. But NY has been cringe worthy this year; they all make me cringe, but I still watch, I am embarrased to admit. And I read the blog you refer to as well, I think that’s how I found you. A guilty pleasure. We all have some dysfunction in our lives, so it makes us feel better/normal to see others’.
    Looking forward to your book.beth

  2. Thanks, Beth. Yeah, I’m a bit worried about our blogger. A lot of times her posts really puzzle me, as in “what were you thinking?” But I still read, too. Appreciate your following along here! -Carol

  3. Kelly says:

    oh Carol, how many times can I comment OMG ME TOO!!!!
    LOL without being a younger version of you copy cat?! 🙂

    SO the book that I keep threatening to write is also a memoir and I got stuck last year because writing it compromises my ex’s anonymity of the AA variety. But much of my story (most) is about my experiences with him and what I learned from them!!
    I am pretty cautious about how much real info I release too, in my public blog. the whole dirty back story is in a private invited readers only blog, which I think you’ve skimmed.
    I’ve been watching Private Practice and thinking about violet’s book…I don’t want to do that to my ex.

    so I had to take a step back and ask myself how I could write it more about ME and less about him…and that’s where I am now.

    I am sooooo disgustingly curious what this blog is you follow now. LOL

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